The Shape of the Journey

The most obvious strength in Jim Harrison’s The Shape of the Journey: New & Collected Poems is diversity. From fresh metaphors drawn from rural nature, particularly of the American Midwest, to more experimental psychological montages, Harrison’s gift for sharp, original, and easily understood imagery is present throughout his poetic career including his early verse (first published in 1965) which only rarely reads like apprentice work. Unlike his novels, which are known for their themes of vengeance, violence, and myth, Harrison’s verse draws more from his agricultural and hunting background, and the clashes are more between man and nature than man vs. man. Like his prose, Harrison’s view is distinctly masculine which may lead feminist readers to complain about his lack of interest in the female psyche, but Harrison’s focus is rarely on character studies of either gender.

And while Harrison is frequently cited as being among the Zen Buddhist poets of his generation, his tough, sexual, earthy diction distinguishes him from the more ecological Gary Snyder or the more impressionistic Allan Ginsberg. Instead, Harrison’s voice is resoundingly American with little discernable influence from either Eastern or Native American sources.

As with Jim Harrison’s previous volumes, most of which are now out of print, this career-spanning collection will prove indispensable both for its inclusion of his previously published work as well as new verse and an index of first lines that will make this collection especially desirable in public libraries. All readers of poetry will find this a work worth exploring more than once, a book worthy of close study and reflection.